Wednesday, July 4, 2012

understanding scripture in context

   It's unfortunate often times that we quote scripture without understanding the context in which it was written.  I've done it, pastors have done it.  Anyone can be guilty of it if they are not careful.  That is why we must always pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meaning of the scriptures to us everytime we read them. Sometimes the context of a scripture is on a grand scale i.e. a whole chapter or period of time, however sometimes it is simply understanding it in relationship to the verses surrounding it.  Granted contextual interpretation has it's places of debate considering cultural influence etc., for better or for worse.  But, there are many places that are pretty plain.I would like to give some examples of this. 

There is a scripture that is often quoted from Jeremiah in an effort to encourage others.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future".

This is quoted most often as a means of encouragement and supporting the idea that God wants us blessed.
I agree, however, the next scripture is pivotal in the fulfillment of that promise.
Jeremiah 29:12-13 states, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart".

All of this is in the context of God delivering Israel from exile in Babylon.  The blessing in 29:11 was in relation to Israel praying to God and seeking God with all their hearts, as stated in 29:13.

Another example of this is found in Phillipians 4
I have heard many times Phillipians 4:7 quoted "And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus".

This is a wonderful statement.  A piece of good news to be certain.  However, often times is is quoted without the word "AND".  I have been guilty of this myself until recently.  This changes the whole meaning.  It is often presented as a statement of fact. Leaving out the "AND" allows the statement of fact to stand alone with no other requirement to bring it about. Phillipians 4:7 is preceded by a statement of required action which brings this statement of fact to fruition.  

In order for Phillipians 4:7 to come about, the preceding statement in Phillipians 4:4-6 must be obeyed.  That statement is this. Phillipians 4:4-6
"Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God".

In order for supernatural peace, that we do not understand, to be obtained we must  Rejoice, while still representing the gentleness of God in our demeanor.  Not being anxious, we must thankfully pray and make our petitions/requests to God.
How many times do we let go of the reigns and do that?

I think it is noteworthy to point out that immediately following is Phillipians 4:8-9.  It states, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy----think on these things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me---put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.

That is a whole other post by itself.  However, Paul quite often groups ideas together as separate thoughts creating a total thought.  I believe this final statement in Philliapians 4:8-9 is the summary statement for all thoughts leading from the beginning of Chaper 4.

That is, put faith into action in this way; work through your disagreements and concerns while always rejoicing, with an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving, and representing the qualities and character of Christ at the center of all thought and action.  All of God's promises are hinged on obedience.

One more example, of an incomplete thought/incomplete scripture quote is Philippians 2:12-13.  Paul states, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed---not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence---continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose".

It is the underlined part of the scripture that I would like to draw attention to.  You often hear quoted, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling".  This along with other scriptures have been used to support the idea that we in our "free will" somehow play a role in our salvation.  Granted, our responsibility as Christians  is to put faith into action. However, we do not even do that under our own power or... by our own strength.

The second half of the underlined statement above says that, It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose. Faith is the God ordained link between His work and our work in salvation.  We step out in faith yes BUT, we are only able to that because His grace enables us to by providing that gift of faith.  To take ANY credit for ANYTHING good in us undercuts the power of the grace that HE provided working in us.

 There will be posts to come in regards to grace in relation to salvation however, let it suffice to say for now that scripture makes it clear that there is NO good in us capable of doing anything unto salvation (initial justification), sanctification(walking out your Christian life), or glorification(being made perfect in heaven) except that God's loving Holy grace intervenes and does it through us.

So you see, not only do we have an improper understanding of scripture if not considered in relation to its surrounding text or other scriptures that relate to the idea but, it can flat out take away from the totality of the Glory that God is due because we take credit for things often unintentionally that are not possible without God.


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